Who is 'Peter,' and why are so many developers blaming him for app failures?


I've met and spoken with lots of app developers about all kinds of challenges they've faced, not only in making an app or mobile game but in making a living from their work. I have to admit, though, I've never come across anyone with quite the career history of a guy known as Peter.

I first learned about Peter from a recent story on CNBC:

"For years now, when mobile developers update their apps, they usually include a paragraph or two explaining to users what's in the update, and why it's needed. While the language in these App Store updates is usually generic, some have started to include an ongoing joke about a man named Peter."

Through some rather entertaining detective work, CNBC tracks Peter's journey from one app to another, including Wallapop, which operates a sort of mobile flea market, to mobile game QuizUp and even more high-profile tech firms like Medium. In every case, Peter seems to either disappear or make enough mistakes to get fired. Who knows where he'll turn up next. The sequel to Monument Valley? A new Angry Birds iteration?

What I love about the idea of Peter is not merely his Zelig-like ubiquity across the mobile app industry. It's that he serves as both a scapegoat and a symbol of app developers' ability to endure almost anything. App developers may sometimes begin as hobbyists or moonlighters, but they've proven capable of taking on a wide range of difficult challenges, whether it's improving mobile experiences for consumers or even migrating business processes to enterprise apps. In that sense, it's kind of sad that so many organizations seem to treat the Peters of the world as instantly replaceable.

Depending on who takes up Peter's story from here, I would like to make a suggestion on a new angle to his storyline. When he moves into his next role, Peter shows he has learned from the errors or bugs he may have encountered along the way, and applies that knowledge to creating mobile apps that set a new threshold for performance. Or perhaps Peter could become a case study in an app developer who starts out in the world of smartphone and tablet apps and makes breakthroughs on wearable devices like smartwatches, or helps redesign entire rooms with apps that power the Internet of Things.

As troubled as his job history has sometimes seemed, I actually hold out a lot of hope for someone like Peter. He wouldn't have caught on as an online meme (albeit for a very select audience) if others couldn't identify with his struggles. Sometimes there are career moments that seem largely about taking the fall. The best part of any story, however, is when the hero manages to get back up again. --Shane

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